Third Party Debates: 1996

Unlike the previous Independent Voters’ Party experiment, this is a straightforward 3rd Party debate hosted by public access TV, rather than a bizarre (but noble) open party nomination where anyone (even members of opposing parties) could compete for the IVP’s nomination. Again I say, I’m sad the IVP or something similar didn’t survive. 1996 was a massive step back for third parties in general—the valley between two peaks. You had Perot lose a lot of the attention, esteem, debate access as well as the turnout he enjoyed in 1992, and you wouldn’t have another decent exciting candidate until 2000 with Nader. Nader ran this cycle but didn’t get anywhere near the support or attention as he would in the next.

This debate occurs in October, just before the election where the previous debate was the beginning of March, since again it was to win the IVP nomination.

Things get off to a rocky start when you have this woman, Monica Moorehead, who claims to be excluded from the debate, climb up onstage and protest. She apparently represents the Workers’ World Party. It appears as though she was excluded because she isn’t on enough ballots to get to 270 electoral votes. Now, that sounds like a reasonable, fair disqualifer to me…for the main debates. For a third party debate? I’m not so sure. Yeah you gotta draw the line somewhere, but…realistically speaking…this is the kiddie table. The ONLY reason these debates even happen is to let alternative voices be heard—why not let one more in, if she’s on a decent number of ballots? I couldn’t find out exactly how many she was on, but if it wasn’t that far off from 270 I don’t see what the big deal is. Nobody on stage is going to come anywhere close to winning so I don’t see why there should be some pretense of exclusivity.

At the same time, Monica knew the rules and failed to meet them. So suck it up. Protesting right before the debate is really poor form and disrespectful to the other candidates and will probably mean the sponsors are less likely to want to do this again since it’s not worth the trouble. This just reeks of being a spoil sport. And the way she keeps throwing out “I am the only black woman running!” also reeks of entitled, identity politics, and special treatment for having XX minority status points. She even has the gall to start yelling “This is racist! This is racist!” once they try to escort her off the stage. You can instantly hear the crowd turn against her as she says that. I started getting flashbacks to Sanders’ rally being hijacked and ruined by those two black women shouting about Trayvon and claiming everyone in the audience was racist.

Anyway, these jokers waste a solid 15 minutes doing nothing but looking like a bunch of petulant children. I admire the moderator for being able to play it off well enough once that’s over. Very poised, professional, and she explains that all candidates who were on a majority of state ballots were invited—including Ralph Nader, Ross Perot and the two major party candidates. I’m shocked the first two didn’t make the time for this. I understand why the major party candidates wouldn’t be caught dead at an event like this and give the third parties legitimacy by their presence.

I’m not thrilled about this “there’s only 30 seconds to answer so we can ask a lot more questions!” aspect of the debate. I prefer fewer, more open-ended questions with a lot of time to answer more in-depth. Last debate, the IVP primary, was ironically the most well-structured debateI have yet to watch. [And at the time of writing this, I had seen every general election debate and one or two primary debates from both parties each cycle.]

Also, while the moderator is making a nice point about how much bullshit the 2-party duopoly is, she’s talking about Federalists and Whigs like they were contemporaneous with the Republicans and Democrats which is ridiculously false. Our two party system is repressive, but it really has always been that way. The parties just changed (or changed positions over time) but it’s always been only two main factions. The Federalists and Democratic-Republicans, to the Whigs and Democrats, to the Republicans and Democrats. They did not exist all at once as she’s implying, and I’d expect a political moderator to get fifth grade history down. She seems to think that the two party structure is a recent phenomenon.

So, we have half the field of the last debate. Hopefully that means we lose the nutballs like Dodge and Levison who did nothing but waste time. We have Harry Brown of the Libertarians who’s on the ballot in all 50 states. John Haglen of the Natural Law Party (never heard of them before) who’s on the ballot in 43 states. And John Phillips makes a return from last time, probably the only person from that IVP debate to remain relevant in any way afterwards, of the same Taxpayer’s Party and is on the ballot in 39 states. I’m kinda happy to see him return because he was the best debater from last time, but he’s also the one whose views I most disliked.

This seems like a pretty convoluted debate structure to me, with panelist questions, then questions from the press, then another “ask each other!” segment (oh boy…) and this weird rule where they have one minute they can call on to use at any time, and if they don’t then they get a two minute closing statement at the end. Well…let’s see how it goes.

Drinking game: take a shot every time Browne says “at a time when” in his opening statement. You’ll honestly be dead. He goes on an expected spiel about how government doesn’t work. Hagelin goes on about special interests groups and stresses “common sense solutions.” Apparently this party is made up of professors and scientists. He wants a healthcare system that focuses on prevention—same with crime. Phillips drops an anti-homosexuality reference in his statement and overall comes off like a more bombastic Libertarian than even Browne. He’s probably my least favorite candidate on the stage. All three of these candidates are pretty flawed in terms of oration, and unlike the 1992 IVP debate, I already know how 2/3s of the candidates are going to answer each question. The only person whose party and positions are new to me is Hagelin and this Natural Law Party, so I’m going to focus on him. Any general highlights will be brought up too.

Hagelin is a supporter of free trade and believes competition with Mexico will not be a factor because America is so creative and wonderful that we will be able to find solutions. Phillips channels Trump and Cruz from this cycle by being against NAFTA in the way it “undermines US sovereignty” as he bumps the microphone. Browne is also pro-free trade, but is against organizations like the World Trade Organization. Right off the bat, I can tell this is going to be an extraordinarily dull debate. There doesn’t seem to be much if any difference between these guys. They seem mostly right-wing, anti-international agreements and pro-business. We really needed Perot, or hell even that Moorehead person here to offer some difference of opinion. As is, this is basically just watching three guys who won’t be President circle-jerk over the same policies. Hopefully there will be differences in some of the other topics but the first two rounds of questions here, you could literally shuffle around each person’s answers and it wouldn’t make a difference.

Asked about Moorehead’s little spectacle and what they think of her being excluded, Browne basically pivots to himself. He says he’s disappointed he wasn’t invited to the real debates yet HE didn’t throw a fit. Then he gives an off-topic spiel about building the Libertarians up to a level in which they cannot be ignored by 2000…yeah, how’s that working out? 16 years after his own self-imposed deadline and they couldn’t even make it on stage when the competition is Hillary and Trump, and didn’t even crack 5% against them. Hagelin also sidesteps Moorehead completely. I like his answer better because he goes point by point on all the ways the debates are rigged against third parties. Not only is it restricted by ballot access (which he thinks is fair—and I agree) but also by polling at 15% in three polls, and he also lists a third criteria I didn’t even know about, where you have to have a certain number of endorsements. It really is insane and absolutely unfair when you look at it that way, and we all know it’s unfair, yet nobody is doing anything about it. Phillips is the only one to address Moorehead specifically, when he says if CSPAN would host a debate against her, he’d be happy to partake. Then he describes how voting used to be—you just wrote the name on a piece of paper, no ballot necessary—and how Lincoln got elected in several states in which he wasn’t even on the ballot. I disagree with his “cut this and cut that, and scale back the government!” mentality, but I do agree with him that the Federal Election Commission should be cut (or, alternatively, funds should be shared by all candidates with a viable path to 270, but one or the other.)

Hagelin loses further respect from me when his answer to inner city problems is (like his opponents) that the economy has to grow. I hate this obsession with growth—it’s unsustainable. And you can play another drinking game for every time he says that word. I was expecting more, and something different, from what initially sounded like a technocratic party, but he’s just as much a typical pro-business candidate as the others. Even the next panelist (who has a pretty epic comb-over) mentions this. Phillips gives a good answer, I have to admit, about bureaucrats in essence stealing money from the poor through their waste. He would cut from the Federal government and give to the states or cut altogether. Browne says that’d take too long and advocates a strict Constitutionalist approach. He’d keep defense and judiciary. Even “crime control” (the police I take it) he would privatize, along with education, housing and everything else. Can you say “extremist?” Thank God we don’t live in a world where the police are essentially the private army of some billionaire. (Or are we?)

Hagelin says the Natural Law Party would not hack and slash programs performing a function. He basically wants a shift in focus in a lot of programs, and uses Medicare as an example. If focused on prevention, it could be more efficient and save money, he says. So, he really doesn’t answer the question, but it is nice to see a more reasonable small government candidate who wants to trim the fat and refocus, not just hack and slash the federal government and assume businesses are going to benevolently take on the burden out of the goodness of their heart, or some magic of the “Free Market” (TM) bullshit. This is what a true Conservative is, keeping government in check and cutting the fat out of a budget, not going haywire and seeing government as a problem in itself, ala Reagan and the modern GOP.

ASIDE: This is what’s frustrating as a Left Libertarian. Because there are actually a lot of government programs and agencies which are bad and need to end. Yet the Democrats seemingly don’t want to cut anything, and the GOP and Libertarians only talk about cutting good programs like the FDA, medicare/medicaid, Education and welfare. Where’s the party that wants to cut the Federal Reserve, trim the military budget by at least a third, consolidate the dozen intelligence agencies into one or two more tightly reined ones that don’t spy on us, and things like that? I’d get out there and work my fingers to the bone to elect that party. Even the “fringe left” Green Party which is the closest thing to the bottom left quadrant we have in America don’t talk about things like that. Stein’s more concerned about anti-vaccinations and fear-mongering about Wi-Fi.

It’s a shame the Libertarian Party doesn’t advertise or doesn’t seem to want to cut the scarier, more costly, more unpopular government functions which don’t actually make citizens lives better. If they don’t want to cut those agencies I listed, they’re not really Libertarians. If they do, they’re missing a golden opportunity to get some idealistic/millennial support if they advertised that platform more. The Green’s too. They need a niche so they’re backing the fringe hippie kinda talking points. If they really wanted to be successful they would embrace a truly Left-Libertarian platform like Nader did in 2000. He still did badly, but 2.7% is a lot better than 0.5% or whatever it is the Greens get now in elections.

Here’s a speech I found of Monica Moorehead online, not contemporaneous with the 1996 campaign though, unfortunately. I disagree with her tactics at this debate but she deserves to be heard.

(*Breath*) Ok, now with that out of my system. Now we’re in the second round of questions with only 30 seconds. Like some cruel, or hilarious, joke on the format, the first panelist asks a ridiculously complex question with multiple parts which could not possibly be answered in the time-frame. If you’re gonna insist on this batshit time limit, at least ask simple questions. Phillips even pokes fun at this “my thirty seconds are up!” in his answer. He inevitably goes over time and the moderator quips “30 seconds are tough.” Yes, answering in-depth policy questions is tough—impossibly tough—especially a multi-faceted one like this. That’s why you don’t do it. Better to ask general questions and give them time to answer. You may not get to ask more questions but sometimes less is more. I’d rather hear them lay out their plan for foreign policy, the economy, education, healthcare and infrastructure in depth than this bullshit quiz show format.

Hagelin wants an immigration quota per country. Very interesting—I’ve literally never heard something like that before. I’m not sure I like the idea, but it’s something new at least. I personally think diversity is good, but placing arbitrary limits to get an artificial “maximum diversity!!!” mixture rubs me the wrong way. So, we could theoretically pass up some great people from one country because only X number are being allowed in, or conversely take in a bunch of people with no skills and/or extremists from another country because we need to have so many European/Latin American/African/Asian/Australian people in our diversity quota? Feels to me like affirmative action, which has good intentions but in practice leads to qualified minorities (usually Asian-American) being passed up for underqualified minorities (usually African-American) in the name of diversity. True equality is setting a standard and accepting all who meet it regardless of gender, race, orientation or religion. It’s not forcing an exact equal number so you can pat yourself on the back about how diverse you are.

Again, Phillips asserts in no uncertain terms that he’s vehemently anti-abortion and anti-LGBT. He even goes so far as to accuse Bob Dole of promoting homosexuality!! It’s a shame this guy is so ridiculously hateful on this subject. He’s actually a pretty charismatic guy, personable, and even likable outside of it, even if I disagree with his right-wing ideas. And I know just about everyone was anti-gay at this time. But the fact that he goes so far as to accuse the Republicans of promoting homosexuality shows, to me, that he’s REALLY intense about it. Like, anything not absolutely, unequivocally gay-bashing is worthy of condemnation to Phillips. He’s not one of those “marriage is between one man and one woman” types (which would be bad enough) hes a “openly shame and belittle the queers!!” type.

Hagelin wins some small points back by promoting sex-ed as a way to keep abortions down (and studies show he’s totally right) and he dodges the gay question which, realistically, was the only way to “support” the community at this time without losing a heap of support. The only three people I’m aware of who undeniably, unapologetically supported LGBT rights before it was cool were McGovern, Jackson and Bernie Sanders, and they all deserve special credit for their brave stances on that at the height of the Moral Majority period.

Browne says the government should stay out of abortion either way—it’s a personal thing, and also skillfully dodges the gay part of the question. Again, here’s another frustrating example of the Libertarians not catering to their potential left-leaning supporters as they could and ought to have done. All Browne had to do was say “we want smaller, less intrusive government which doesn’t regulate or control private behavior, whatever that may be.” Then he doesn’t even need to take a personal stand on gay people. That’s literally his whole party’s mantra, and it ought to apply to things he may not like personally such as gay sex or abortion. But in practice the Libertarians in America only play up their right-wing talking points. It’s very frustrating and I suspect it costs them a lot of potential support. You’d think they themselves would have recognized this need to carve out a wider niche against the Republicans and Democrats, but they didn’t, and that’s why even now against Trump and Clinton they fail spectacularly.

These guys are fucking crazy when they say they want to abolish the EPA, call nuclear energy a source of pollution, and claim that if it weren’t for the government the “Free Market” (TM) would be giving us clean, renewable energy by now. Yeah, just like it would be giving us the best, cheapest healthcare ever and we’d have a colony on the moon if not for NASA. Jesus Christ, do these people even hear themselves sometimes? I knew Newt was batshit after watching the 2012 primary debate, but other people who say this kinda stuff, I have to wonder if they honestly believe it or if they’re pandering. Either way it’s despicable and insane. It’s one thing to think business is more efficient and better managed at doing things than government. It’s quite another to make these ridiculous pie in the sky fantasies that we would have a sparkling utopia of Fusion energy, space colonies, and the poor being well taken care of if we just gut the federal government entirely. Because Corporations have shown time and time again that with less regulation they always give back to the community and don’t totally fuck over anyone or anything they can in the name of profits…right?

You can see maybe where the beginnings of right-wing extremism came from in this debate when one panelist asks whether these guys would give higher marks to the Democratic President or Republican Congress and each one of them rails against the Republican Congress for compromising in any way with Clinton on anything. The ’90s Gingrich-led Congress was already ridiculously extremist, giving us the first shutdown out of spite, the witch-hunt Lewinsky scandal and much more. But these guys want them to obstruct even more. I wonder what they think of the shenanigans going on today, 20 years later, with no compromise at all and the government hobbling along with a crippled court and on the verge of shutting down or being filibustered to hell anytime Cruz or someone else gets bored. It’s ridiculous, and absolutely not the way we were meant to be run. Attitudes like this were and are part of why we got to this point and why no one is getting what they want. Now that the genie is out of the bottle I’d expect the Democrats to do the same if the Republican ever win a national election.

Only one member of the press asks a question when that round comes, and only one candidate (Phillips) asks a question (to Browne) in that segment. I’m wondering if the press didn’t ask questions because they don’t consider the answers newsworthy, or if it’s because these guys’ strict-Constitutionalist agenda’s have already been made abundantly clear by this point. Same with not asking each other questions—is it because even they themselves know the other parties are irrelevant, or because there’s legit nothing to even ask? Phillips essentially reveals that the Taxpayer’s Party is very religious (oh boy) and wonders what the Libertarian Party considers its “sovereign” in place of God. I love Browne’s answer—one of the best answer’s to another candidate’s questions I’ve ever seen and another candidate for “best understated or forgotten moment in debate history.”

Overall, this is an extraordinarily pointless debate. Not insufferable to watch like some of the GOP primary debates, just boring. It’s essentially three strict Constitutionalists reiterating one after the other, question after question, how much they hate the Federal government and want to destroy it. At least the GOP debates have fiery orators, love-to-hate personalities, and in the last two cycles became total shit shows where you just couldn’t look away. This is a respectful debate, and a decent number and diversity of questions are asked…but when the answer to all of them amounts to “I would strip that power from the Federal government/”the government should not be involved in that” then after awhile it’s like “why am I even watching this?” After seeing the whole thing, I actually wish they had included Moorehead now, because at least having a Socialist as she claimed to be would have provided a much needed counter-point to these guys. That said, I still think her protest was childish, as was playing the race and gender card.

I really liked the moderator, Jennifer Laszlo—not gonna lie, she was without a doubt the best part. She handled the protest respectfully and addressed the issue raised about why Moorehead wasnt invited in a way that showed it was done for a reason. She kept everyone on time, kept things moving, had poise and made the event appear respectable. Shame she didn’t moderate more debates, because she, Len Umina from the IVP debate and Chris Wallace are the ONLY three in all of debate history that have stood out to me in any particularly good way. Most moderators are awful, because they either fail to keep order, play favorites, insert themselves and their own agendas into the debate, or flaunt their “kingmaker” status in some obnoxious way. (For many it’s a combination of all four.)

As for the candidates themselves, Phillips is unchanged from ’92. He’s still a good orator—the best on stage. And he comes off as very personally likable even though I completely disagree with his platform. Its a shame he’s so bigoted against LGBT issues and not even in such a way that I can brush it off with “oh, but everyone was back then.” Browne is pretty generic and milquetoast. He seems like an alright guy, and a better orator than Gary Johnson, but still not a good one overall. He also has the same problem of generic answers—the Libertarians seriously needed to work on branding, advertising, and appealing to possible Leftist support. Stop playing up the right-wing crowd-pleasers (we wont regulate business, take your guns, and we’ll cut the Dept. of Education and EPA!!) and start playing up to the left too (we support legalized drugs, LGBT rights, and we’ll cut the FED and end domestic surveillance). To be fair, Browne does mention ending the war on drugs twice at the debate, and I did hear Johnson say all this in his excellent Joe Rogan interview in 2016. But neither played up these attractive positions nearly enough.

Hagelin just comes off as weak and slightly nervous. Every time he talks, he sounds almost scared or unsure of himself, and takes a deep breath or two before talking. I can sympathize because that’s probably how I’d sound up there on my best day. But, for the billionth time, appearances matter. And when you’re Constitutional Literalist Right-winger #3…you really need to stand out in some way and he just doesn’t. None of them really do, but at least Browne can say the Libertarians were there first and Phillips can claim to be the best orator. It initially sounded like the Natural Law Party was going to be the technocrats (rule by experts) on the stage here…but aside from an emphasis on prevention (in healthcare, crime and unwanted sex through sex ed) he didn’t have the policies or the talking points that answered the critical question “why you?”

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